The Gospel this Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Mt. 2:18-22) offers us two lessons. He tells the assembled crowd that his disciples rejoice because, “As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.” He goes on to teach, “New wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” A few thoughts on these lessons, which fall providentially on MLK Day this year.
Dr. King’s witness was unique and uniquely effective. It was peaceful and thoroughly grounded in the Christian message. Those who followed him turned the other cheek to the verbal abuse, legal intimidation, and even the physical violence of their persecutors. They responded with words and even hymns of peace and hope. They could do this because they kept the bridegroom with them in their hearts. They knew that even should the struggle claim their lives, they had something greater to look forward to in the true promised land of heaven. Like the first martyrs of the Church suffering in the arenas of the pagan world they shocked onlookers with their peace… the peace that only Christ can bring.
This peace comes from being filled with the love of the bridegroom like wine filling a wine skin. And Jesus wants us to have an ever greater share of his loving presence in us. Herein lies our challenge, because each time he renews us, each time he tries to fill us with a new share of his love we need to prepare “fresh wine skins,” to receive him. We need to reinvent ourselves a little. Back in the days when wine was stored in animal skins, the skins would – over time – become brittle. New wine expands with fermentation, requiring a more flexible storage space, hence fresh wine skins. How do we achieve this renewal?
Renewal comes from without and from within. Without: It helps us to get beyond the echo chamber of our daily lives. Last week I was in Arizona at a conference with Catholics from all over the US. A member of our DC group remarked, “Father, do you notice how happy and optimistic all these people are?” She made this observation in contrast to what she perceives as a gloominess in Washington. I’m sure folks all over America have their own struggles… and that our fellow participants found the DC delegation a cheerful bunch. The point is this: stepping out of our routines gives us a chance to re-assess things with fresh eyes, make new resolutions and return home different people. Whether it’s a trip to Southern Maryland, or the Shrines of Emmitsburg or the wine country in Virginia, consider getting out of town just for a day. You may be surprised at the new person who comes home. Within: Renewal comes from within as each of us is washed anew by the stream flowing from the pierced side of Christ. We turn to him in the fountain of the Word. We turn to the fountain of the sacraments flowing from his pierced side. In confession, at mass, and through our sacramental relationships (marriage, holy orders), we find an internal refreshment and inspiration to make ourselves anew in his image. Turn to the sacraments frequently. Stop by Church to visit the Blessed Sacrament or attend Adoration on First Saturdays. You’ll be amazed at what Jesus does for you.
Thus recreated we can be filled ever more with the presence of the bridegroom and equipped -like Dr. King’s followers- to achieve whatever our circumstances may call for. I came back from my conference very much renewed and look forward to sharing the fruits of that experience and that prayer over time.